Gustav Klimt, his Life and Work, Celebrating 150 Years of his birth



HIS LIFE
HIS WORK

From around 1900 until his death in 1918, Gustav Klimt dominated the art scene in the capital of the empire of Austro-Hungary. The Vienna of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg and Stefan Zweig, the Vienna of the great walzes, the Belle Epoque, a city admired all over the world for its artistic and cultural quality and diversity. One of the pre-eminent cities of Europe and a rival to London and Paris.

Born on July 14, 1862 in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Gustav Klimt was the second of seven children of a meticulous but poor engraver and carver. His brother Ernst, who could have been as talented as Gustav had he not died so young, worked with his brother until his death. His brother Georg was a talented sculptor, carver and designer who made many of the frames for Gustav’s paintings.

The Klimts were very poor, so they had frequent changes of address in search of progressively cheaper accommodation. In 1873, the situation worsened considerably because of the economic crisis in Austria and his father had no income at all for some time.

At school, Klimt’s talent was greatly appreciated, and one of his relatives suggested to his mother he should apply for the School of Arts and Crafts. Gustav entered the School of Arts and Crafts of Vienna at the age of fourteen. For seven years he learned, together with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch, the most diverse techniques, from mosaics to fresco. The trio was so talented their professors let them work on their own decoration projects. Klimt’s style in those years was hyperrealistic, inspired by the work of Hans Makart, one of the most famous painters of the day.

There were several paintings that announced a change in Klimt’s career. The first was a work that Klimt produced for the rich industrialist Nikolaus Dumba. In 1899 he asked Makart, Matsch and Klimt to decorate three rooms in his villa. Klimt was responsible for the music room and he painted Music II and Shubert at the Piano. Nuda Veritas, painted in the same year, includes a quotation from the dramatist Schiller: ‘If you cannot please everyone with your art, please a few. To please many is bad’. Klimt, who had previously worked hard to please his public, now acknowledged no standards but his own...

AMONG HIS MOST FAMOUS PAINTINGS ARE:
  • Water Sprites
  • Nuda Veritas
  • Hygeia
  • Goldfish
  • Emilie Flöge
  • The Beethoven Frieze
  • Stoclet Frieze
  • Salome
  • Adele Block-Bauer
  • The Kiss
  • Danaë
  • Death and Life
  • Mäda Primavesi
  • The Girls
  • Women Friends
  • The Bride

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